The Fear of a Black Baby

Over the weekend my stepdad shared this video during a family gathering. While most of the family was congregating in the living room, my mom, my aunt and I snuck away to view this prank performed by Nephew Tommy of the Steve Harvey Radio Show. My mom has been a big Steve Harvey fan for years now, and is not one to get offended easily. Yet she didn’t laugh once during this video.

For those who can’t watch, Tommy informs this man that his wife was accidentally impregnated with his sperm by his fertility clinic. After getting over the brief of confidentiality by the clinic, the caller doesn’t seem that worried that his wife will be having someone else’s baby. What he focuses on is the fact that the baby will be black.

Now, I can imagine people throwing out words like “colour-blind”, “race card” or “race-baiting”. The people who throw out these words have a hard time grasping the concept of noticing race, and not being racist. Their go to defence for racism is to argue that they don’t even see colour, and those that do are the real racists. They say that the people always talking about race are the people dividing us all. In that case, this man fits the description. Tommy repeatedly says that he is the “baby daddy”, which prompts the man to ask if Tommy is black . That is not something a colour-blind person would say. For the rest of his call, this caller is only worried that the baby will be black. “Am I going to have a black baby?” If he was colour-blind, this wouldn’t matter either. If he’s colour-blind, his only concern should have been that the baby is someone else’s.

I initially laughed at his outcry, while my aunt and mom both looked taken aback by my amusement. Maybe it was a nervous reaction on my part, since I was so taken aback by how disgusted this man was with the idea that he could end up having a black baby. In retrospect, the video isn’t funny. It reveals how people can embrace racism and use the excuse that they consume black entertainment to backpedal out of their own racism. Once the caller realizes it is a recorded prank call he quickly informs Tommy that he listens to the show everyday. I’m surprised he didn’t say that he has black friends. Like my mom said, this man accepts us for entertainment but doesn’t seem to want blackness anywhere near his home.
Of course, people will be quick to defend him. Probably because they would react the same way. My question to these people is: Can you really say you’re “colour-blind” if you would react this way?

 

The Dying Engine

“I used to think that maybe I’d let my anger serve as an engine. But I’ve since discovered that my anger over each new racist incident is now rivaled and augmented by the anger I feel when asked to explain, once more, why black people shouldn’t be brutalized, insulted, and killed. If you’re a person of color, the racism beat is also a professional commitment to defending your right and the right of people like you to be treated with consideration to an audience filled with readers champing at the bit to call you nothing but a nigger playing the race card.” Cord Jefferson- The Racism Beat

I originally read this article about a year ago, at a time when I was starting to publicly share my thoughts on race more frequently, whether through YouTube or this blog. Many of my videos concerned the overlap between film and race, two of my greatest interests. However, many discussed issues such as racial profiling. I remember hearing about the verdict for the Trayvon Martin case back in 2013. Although I knew about notorious incidents of police brutality against blacks, such as Rodney King, I was shielded from this particular manifestation of racism for some reason. I experienced racial profiling numerous times growing up, such as always being asked “do you live here” when I walked around the courtyard of my apartment building in London, England. Or when a flight attendant insisted I use the bathroom in coach, instead of the first class one that I had the right to use since I was sitting in first class.  I’ve also experienced the more subtle forms of racism e.g. “you’re smart for a black guy”, “you speak so well” etc.

Hearing that a neighbourhood watchmen took it upon himself to kill a teenager, because he “looked suspicious” infuriated me since I knew that teenager could have been me.  I have had people cross the street or pull their loved ones closer seeing a 6’4, threatening black man come their way. I always wear hoodies, especially when it is cold or raining (like it was on the night Martin died).

Back in 2013, it was a shock to see Zimmerman acquitted. I thought he would be charged for murder, or maybe manslaughter as a worst case scenario. There were numerous comments defending him online: Martin was a thug, all these people talking about racial profiling are “race-baiters”. Like the Trump election, I wanted to believe that these people must be a loud minority.

They weren’t a loud minority. They were the voices of resentful, racist whites who would say anything to justify the death of a black person. They would say that the liberal media shouldn’t vilify the cops. They would say we need to wait for the facts of the case. Then these people would donate $500,000 to officer Darren Wilson before the trail began. There is no desire to let the trial speak for itself. People’s minds were made up once they saw who got shot, and who shot them.

The shooting of unarmed black men doesn’t faze me as much as it used to. It’s not because I don’t care, it’s because I’m used to it now. I’m used to the police testimonies, the online comments saying that black people would be better off if they “just obeyed the law” and the host of other excuses that rely on racist assumptions.

A part of me worries I could be on the list someday. Maybe I am walking down the street in an area that is deemed too nice for me, and someone reports me for my presence. Maybe I am driving a car that is too expensive to be mine. Maybe I threaten a cop’s ego by showing him too much attitude, maybe I reach for my wallet and end up dead. What then? I become a thug, another black guy that just couldn’t follow orders.

The fact that I am educated would probably be ignored by a lot of people. They would point to pictures on Facebook where I am dressed in hoodies, drinking, throwing up “gang signs”. Maybe they would bring up conflicts I had with previous landlords, one of them a divorced bylaw officer who was on a power trip (Abdulkadar Mohamed “Mo” Dualeh): He would say I was a troublemaker, aggressive, confrontational. I can be whatever they need me to be. People will lose track of the fact that the trial isn’t to determine if I was a saint; it is to determine if the cop had the right to shoot me at a specific moment and time. The gofundme money would start pouring in for my killer, giving him more money than he could ever hope to make as a cop. My death would be unfortunate, but not a crime.  Some will be outraged. They will be called “race-baiters,” “social justice warriors”, or whatever new terms people come up with by then.

I will leave my family behind. They will be confused and angry, but that won’t matter. They’ll be powerless. The cop might lose his job but he’ll have enough money to buy a new house and start a new life, just like Darren Wilson did.

The New Dirty Words

I have found myself spending more time on Facebook since Trump’s election. Not to peruse selfies, but to see what all my “friends” are saying about the election.  These “friends” could be someone I met just once, a former classmate or coworker, or someone I considered a close friend. With each status I come across I get more insight into how some of them really think. I have seen plenty that I like, and have also been disappointed from some of the truths these friends bring to the surface. Everyone has the right to free speech, so I am not judging them for making their voice heard. As a matter of fact, I like to have people’s thoughts on such a topic out in the open. I can now exercise my free speech to challenge some of the views presented.

There are certain words that appear repeatedly from Trump supporters; “political correctness”, “race baiters”, “identity politics”, “social justice warriors (sjws)”. I collectively like to refer to these as the right-wing buzzwords. People love to say that they don’t like pigeonholing themselves as right or left wing, or that they don’t identify with the spectrum at all. They are a unique snowflake who isn’t like the rest of the sheep they look down on. This argument parallels the infamous “race is a social construct” argument. The fact that something is socially constructed does not mean its impact can be ignored or simply dismissed. Our use of hours and minutes to plan our day is a social construct that has developed over centuries, and the political spectrum is the same. Are you pro-life or pro-choice? Are you against social security or not? Are you a gun-control advocate or not? The answers to these questions will place you somewhere on the spectrum. The totality of your views about different political issues will see you land somewhere; left, right, center-right, center-left etc.

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Think that’s deterministic, rigid, stupid? Ok, then let me throw off another social construct. I no longer recognize myself as a black man. So a girl who only dates white guys will still be interested right? Cops who are more suspicious of black people will no longer feel the need to pull me over or frisk me, right?

The funny thing about people who reject labels such as “right-wing” is that they often do not hesitate to criticize “liberals”. In their own minds, they are just following common sense. It is the other side that is stuck in their ways and is blind to reason. I feel the same way sometimes. Trump was able to capitalize on a climate where people felt like their free speech was stifled. They wanted to say racist things without being labelled as racist. They wanted to say sexist things without “feminazis” labeling them as sexist or misogynist. These oppressed people then see a man who unapologetically calls Hispanics rapists, blacks lazy and calls to ban Muslims from the US. Their hero was born. No more of this “political correctness” or “race-baiting” that held them back.

The term political correctness originated in the 1980s, and was a term developed by conservatives to criticize policies that they viewed as being too accommodating for minorities. These policies included avoiding the use of certain words to describe minority groups and policies such as affirmative action are often lumped into this category too. Realize that the term was developed by conservatives. Now there are times that there may be genuine cases of people being too sensitive about a issue. However, I find that brandishing the term “political correctness” often allows people to defend bigotry. I have heard people rant about their empathy for minorities, but complain about sjws or race-baiters saying “everything” is racist. “Everything” is obviously a blanket term. It could include Madonna referring to her son as “dis nigga” or it could refer to Trump saying Mexico “doesn’t send its best“. Maybe prying would reveal the Trump example, or maybe someone would throw out something more harmless in order to avoid a debate.

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The right-wing buzzwords have become scarlet letters that no one wants to wear. Even people who may genuinely hold some enlightened views about minorities reject the terms and go out of their way not to be misconstrued as “politically correct”. Sometimes it isn’t about being pc or not, it is about being racist or not, about having empathy or not.

Tucker Max, an author and businessman who I follow, started a new project called The Mating Grounds. It was a podcast that helped to promote an upcoming book, and was designed to give men actionable dating advice that was devoid of the sociopathy offered by pick-up artists. One podcast in particular caught my attention and served as a great example of someone showing empathy, but also being wary of being labelled a sjw.

One caller asked for advice on dealing with a racist area (Arizona), where he was repeatedly rebuffed due to his race. Max was quick to advise that Arizona is one of America’s most racist states, demonstrating that he doesn’t embrace the right-wing narrative of a “post-racial” society. He acknowledges the historical and present racism in Arizona. Max was also quick to say that he wasn’t a “sjw” by any means.This fear of the right-wing buzzwords sends us all back to high school; we want to be one of the cool kids. We don’t want to be caught socializing with the losers, the pc horde and those sjws.

This brings up another feature of the right-wing buzzwords, and many political terms. They are all relative. Your own position dictates what you view as being liberal or conservative. There are many people that would condemn Max as a sjw or race-baiter for his comments about Arizona. Additionally, the podcast criticizes rape culture, and stresses the importance of empathy and female choice in dating. There are plenty of people who would consider that “feminazi propaganda” or the work of a “white knight”.

You can call me politically-correct, a sjw or as white knight. I am not ashamed of my views. My views mean more to me now more than ever, especially since people with clashing ones decided to elect Donald Trump as president.

The Rebirth of a Nation

FILE - This undated file photo provided by Christie's auction house shows Jasper Johns' "Flag," a pop art rendition of the American flag created in the 1960s that author Michael Crichton bought from the artist in 1973. The painting is one of many in Crichton's collection that will go on the auction block during Christie's Post-War and Contemporary Art sale in New York on May 11-12, 2010. "Flag" has a pre-sale estimate of $10 million to $15 million, but art dealer Richard Feigen said he believed "it'll go through the roof," fetching upwards of $30 million.  (AP Photo/Christie's, File)

I didn’t watch the entire electoral race last night. Like many people, I woke up to some pretty shocking news. I think this was an outcome that many people didn’t think was truly possible. Author and marketer Ryan Holiday, believed that Trump had no chance of winning. Holiday believed that Trump simply received far too much media attention, and that his supporters were a very loud minority.

The thing about a very supportive minority is that they are very likely to vote. Early results show that voter turnout is only about 50%. Out of approximately 241 million eligible voters, 124 million votes have been counted so far. The number is expected to fluctuate, but the final result is expected to be around 52% voter turnout.

I know that many people feel like this election has not presented two ideal candidates. As a very brief summary, Clinton detractors believed she will not fight for the working class and the email issue continued to hound her throughout her campaign. Trump detractors (like myself) believe Trump is a narcissistic, racist and misogynist grunt who doesn’t have the faintest grasp of politics. However, many Trump supporters liked that. They wanted someone different. Someone who wasn’t an entrenched participant in the political arena. Many of the working class people voting for him believed he would fight for their issues.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are tightening their grips on the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.

With this divide comes the issue of voter turnout. After all the comments Trump made, whether it is about hispanics being rapists and murders, building a wall on the border, banning Muslims from entering the US, grabbing pussy etc, voting for the man requires a high level of conviction. Eligible voters who supported Trump weren’t likely to abstain from voting or vote for a third party. They were going to make sure their voice was heard.

It is clear that many people did not believe in either candidate, but I hope those people realize that they contributed to Trump’s win as well. I have heard some people say the votes spent on third party candidates are pretty much a waste; a vote spent for a candidate that was never going to win, and a vote that is stolen from a democrat or republican. However, I can empathize with the people who voted for the third party candidates. They didn’t like the two most popular choices, but they still made their voice heard. They actually did something about it, instead of sitting around and letting the world pass them by. I have heard the sentiment that the two party system is not real democracy, and that the people don’t truly have choice. They only have more of the same. Well, if that is how you feel, what are you going to do about it? Yes, you might hate the system but you need to combat it, or learn how to live with it. Historically blue states were taken by Trump and key states, such as Pennsylvania were lost by only 1000 votes. You have no right to complain about Trump being president if you did not vote at all.

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I wrote a Facebook post on this earlier, when I was still trying to gather my thoughts. I was watching CP24 and heard one of the people being interviewed refer to Trump as “the epitome of the working man”. Let me use my earlier response as a launchpad for my next point:

Most working people can’t get a small loan of 1 million from their parents. As I’ve mentioned before, people want to say this election wasn’t about hate, it was about the working class wanting someone who represented them. Pretty much the same as saying the confederate flag isn’t about slavery, it’s about state rights. Yeah, state rights…to continue slavery. Trump followed a long line of leaders by scapegoating minorities for economic woes, and his biggest “policies” are building a wall on the border and banning Muslims from entering the US. Yeah he’s not racist, he just “tells it like it is”. He’s not “politically correct”. He’s a pied piper for all the disgruntled bigots in America who feel like racial equality and other social issues are just liberal propaganda that hampers their free speech and is an attack against white people.

All the people who complain about ‘social justice warriors (SJWS)’, ‘feminazis’, ‘race-baiters’ etc. all feel vindicated when a presidential candidate unflinchingly expresses all the bigotry that they try to hide. Some may be quick to argue that minorities voted for Trump. Plenty of white people voted for Obama, that doesn’t mean racism is dead. Even Obama has acknowledged that his presidency is not a sign of post-racialism in America.  There are still Americans who think Obama is a foreign Muslim, such as some of Trump’s supporters. Don’t tell me that any black person could have said half the things Trump has and gone on to become President. 

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Obama’s speech today emphasized that we are all on the same team. Even Trump’s speech had a conciliatory tone as well, but I like to judge someone by how gracious they can be in defeat, not just victory. Trump has now changed his tune, he wants to fight for all Americans. Does one manufactured speech make up for a campaign that was built on singling out one minority after another? Does the speech make up for refusing to condemn an endorsement from the KKK? Trump argued he doesn’t know who David Duke is, a former Klansmen. Fair enough. When the interviewer clarifies that he is talking about “David Duke and the Klu Klux Klan” Trump just repeats that he doesn’t know who David Duke is (Fast forward to 1:00 in the video). You don’t need to be a “social justice warrior” to know who the KKK is. Trump knows, and he consciously accepted the endorsement. He knew he needed the votes.

Although I am severely disappointed by this outcome, I hope it can serve as a cautionary tale when we look back on this moment in American history. Bigots and the people who support them aren’t always just a loud minority. Maybe if more people voted Clinton would have won, maybe not. Maybe hate would prevail: All the hate that has built since the Civil Rights Act, the hate building since a black man became president.  Maybe Saturday Night Live will be less likely to have people like Trump guest star if they thought such a corrosive candidate could actually become President. Maybe we can stop pretending like America has cured its racism problem and that race-baiters are the real enemy now. We can’t dismiss crowds of racists as a lunatic fringe anymore. They are now more emboldened than ever. How does this fare for America’s minorities; The muslims, hispanics, blacks and gays who may be surrounded by bigots in their respective communities. Maybe this is the wake-up call we needed. As political commentator, Van Jones says, this election is a “whitelash against a changing country”.

 

There Is No Racism Problem Here

I have always taken an interest in what people post on online comment sections, whether it is on newspaper articles or YouTube videos. A lot of people think that racist comments on these forums are all the work of “trolls”- people who deliberately make inflammatory comments for the sake of starting arguments. If we can pass off all racist online comments as the work of trolls, then we can imagine that there isn’t a single racist person online and that the internet is the idyllic bastion of tolerance and democracy.

However, plenty of research suggests that the anonymity of online forums just makes it more likely for people to embrace their prejudice. The book I linked to is just one source I used in a paper concerning this phenomena. A lot of online forums accept pseudonyms, and even if they link to social media, some people may still be bold enough to post racist comments since they can customize their privacy settings on these platforms. Unlike a face-to-face interaction, it is unlikely that there will be consequences for racist statements. I was reading an article in the Howard Journal of Communications that also studied how racists can become emboldened online,specifically on newspaper comment sections, since their racist comments or rants are often supported online. This then creates an echo-chamber where racists dominate discussion and silence more civilized conversations. There is no democratic debate.

This is to say that I don’t think I am over-analyzing when I pay attention to the comments people make online.  One common narrative that I have found on IMDB and YouTube is the idea that some countries don’t have the same racism that America does. I have seen such comments on videos or boards for films like 12 Years A Slave and Selma. The basic gist is that “my country has no problem with black people, either historically or now”, and typically comes from European users. Historically I would beg to differ. America’s history of slavery may be the most prominent but numerous European countries participated in the slave trade.

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Present day, my biggest issue with this argument is that it ignores one of the unfortunate realities of racism. Racism can be generated from a complete lack of interaction with a group, but it can also be generated from a certain level of sustained interaction. It is easy to say that your country has no problem with black people when there are very little or when they have very little impact on your city or country. When people feel like their culture is threatened, that is when they begin to lash out.  I am not empathizing with this view, or making excuses for racists. I am a minority as well and want to emphasize that people can become more intolerant when they “feel” threatened, even if facts do not line up with their view of the world.

Let’s see how tolerant people remain when they start competing with minorities for jobs. I came across a post on the IMDB board for American History X, which helped to crystallize how job competition can contribute to racism as well . The film follows Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton), a former Neo-Nazi who tries to save his younger brother from the life of racism he once had. As Derek reflects on what led him on the path to white supremacy, he remembers his dad being killed by black gang members after responding to a 9/11 call in a drug den. However, Derek also remembers an earlier incident; a conversation with his father.

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Years earlier, Derek tells his dad that they started reading Native Son in school, which is about a young black man in poverty. Derek’s dad makes it clear that he thinks “black books” are being used at the expense of good books. Derek’s dad, a firefighter, then shared a story of black firefighters being hired even though they weren’t qualified. We do not know how Derek’s dad knows they weren’t qualified. Derek’s dad also refers to the need for diversity as “nigger bullshit”.

An IMDB forum discussion titled “I agree with Derek’s dad on most point…” argues that Derek’s dad was undoubtedly racist but he had a good point about diversity trumping talent. A link is included but you may not be able to access it if you do not have an IMDB account. I have included screenshots below as evidence.

Most of the replies in this discussion echo the misconception that affirmative action results in unqualified candidates. There is a misconception about affirmative action flooding workplaces with black C students instead of white A students. However, such hiring is illegal and affirmative action mostly involves selecting a minority from a pool of qualified candidates. Affirmative action in the US also does not instil quotas, which is another prevalent misconception.

One response in particular got my attention:

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In case you can’t read it: “I agree 100%, my uncle and his friend years ago both tried out to be police officers in Philadelphia and despite having higher test scores than two black aspiring police officers, they didn’t get the job, it instead went to the other candidates. That shows how messed up the US is, employers should higher the most qualified candidates instead of trying to up their diverse employee stats. It’s simply stupid.”

I have heard similar stories before, and I have yet to hear such a story where there is proof that the black candidates were unqualified. I thought I would give the poster the benefit of the doubt and ask him how his uncle knew the black candidates got lower test scores.

His response:

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“This happened a little bit before I was born so this is what I was told (I was told the others were unqualified, I assume this was observed during physical training). I love how you automatically assumed I was racist, triggered much?”

So basically, this poster’s uncle actually has no proof that the black candidates were unqualified. I respect this poster for actually being honest; he could have just lied about his uncle seeing their test scores himself. Yet I also detest that he heard this story, doesn’t know the details and is now using it to fuel his attack on minorities. The next time a black person gets a job instead of him, he’ll likely assume they were unqualified. Then he’ll tell his kids this story, and they’ll tell their kids….

First we get this ignorance, disguised as an argument for merit. Next people might complain about having to accommodate new languages or religions.

Let’s see how tolerant your country is when immigrants and minorities are blamed for a poor economy, crime, changing culture etc. This is already happening more and more in Europe with the refugee crisis. No country lacks a racism problem. That is either a lie or the country has very few minorities.

 

I Like My Bigots Out in The Open

I try to avoid spending too much time on Facebook, there’s only so much entertainment that I can derive from selfies. Earlier today I came across this interesting video a friend posted.

If you can’t watch it is a video by black photojournalist, Tom Jefferson. The incident begins with Jefferson at a anti-fracking rally in Mars, Pennsylvania. One bystander, John Pisone starts insulting the protesters and then turns his attention to Jefferson. He starts off saying all black people look the same to him, calls Jefferson a “chimp”, says his hair looks like a mop, and ends with some eloquent monkey sounds.

Pisone has since been fired for his comments and his comments are an example of racism that even Fox News would view as racist (maybe). This is probably the reason that the comments aren’t swarmed with complaints about liberal bias, “race-baiting” or “political-correctness”.  What bothers me is that racism needs to be this salient for people to catch on to it. The same people decrying Pisone’s comments might be the same ones saying someone wouldn’t have been shot twice (while restrained) if they just “obeyed the law”. Or who would complain about too many black characters in a tv show (e.g. Luke Cage).

Racist beliefs are much more common than we think and most people realize the stigma of racist beliefs. Therefore, they disguise their racism. They say they are “colour-blind” whenever racism is brought up, while also making decisions about their neighbourhoods, schools, partners etc. based on race. Do not look at Pisone and think “Thank God they’re aren’t more people like him”, say “It’s a shame more racists aren’t outspoken”. Let them say what they really mean, on video, on social media. Let others see how “colour-blind” they really are.

It is their free speech to share such thoughts. It is legal. It is also legal for us to criticize them, distance ourselves from them, or fire them due to their comments. Come forth racists. Don’t hide behind your black “friends”. Don’t say “I’m not racist but…”. Cut through the darkness with your white light.

Zootopia and Race

Warning: This post will contain spoilers for Zootopia.

I remember watching the Zootopia sloth trailer in front of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and laughing just as hard as everyone else in the theater. However, when the release date came around I was preoccupied with the hype for BatmanvSuperman and the film slipped by my radar. Zootopia returned to my radar after hearing about its box office success, and especially after a friend gave it a glowing review.

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One of the things that my friend liked the most was how the film tackled the issue of race. He said it wasn’t preachy or overly sentimental, but worked in allegories that were easily identifiable. I remember the one he told me about was the use of the word “cute”. In the film, it is okay for bunnies to call one another cute, but it is offensive if another species uses the word. I don’t think I need to elaborate on the similarity to the word “nigga”.

Another light-hearted allegory that got my attention was a scene where Nicholas “Nick” Wilde (Jason Bateman) touches a sheep’s hair, remarking on how fluffy it is. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) then whispers that he can’t just touch a sheep’s wool. I can remember grade eight at Southbank International School in London, England. I was one of two black kids, out of a student body of at least 100, and my classmates often touched my hair. I am sure a lot of other black people, and women especially, can relate to someone treating them like an animal in a petting zoo and touching their hair without permission. I remember that a Buzzfeed article on Zootopia was filled with people arguing that this happens to anyone with curly hair. Black people, on average, are more likely to have curly or “kinky” hair so I think it is fair to say that the sheep wool can be interpreted as kinky hair.

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Aside from these smaller vignettes, Zootopia is loaded with messages of discrimination. What I like most about the film is that most of these messages or lessons don’t come from the depiction of highly vocal bigots. I have no sympathy for ignorant people but most of the discrimination in the film is presented as ingrained biases from otherwise decent people who do not seem to know any better. I have no problem with the depiction of more staunch bigotry (such as Imperium or American History X) but in this age of supposed “colour-blindness” it is important to see how people who claim to be tolerant can adopt stereotypes of other races.

Within the city of Zootopia, mammals (predator and prey) now live in harmony. The film revolves around the disappearance of fourteen mammals in Zootopia.  Their disappearance is revealed to be a move by Mayor Leodore Lionheart (J.K Simmons) to hide the fact that predators are going “savage”- reverting to their desire to attack and consume prey. Co-screenwriter Jared Bush has explained that predators in Zootopia only eat plant-based proteins and insects. Going “savage” causes the animals to lose the capacity for speech and return to the predator-prey mindset. Hopps, aided by Wilde, must uncover why the animals are going savage.

Wilde’s identify as a fox gives us one of our first insights into discrimination in this fictional world. In the film foxes have a reputation for being sly and deceitful. Hopps’s parents are wary of her living among them when she leaves their farm and goes to Zootopia. They make sure to give her fox-repellent, similar to pepper spray. Although Judy criticizes their bigotry she still brings the fox-repellent with her on her first day of work. Like real-life, someone who is outwardly accepting can still be affected by stereotypes that they have picked up from the media, friends, parents etc. I have had well-meaning friends tell me I speak well for a black guy, and Hopps also applauds Nick for how articulate he is. Nick has heard the compliment before, and thanks Hopps for not being patronizing (although his tone implies that he is not truly happy to hear the compliment again).

Wilde has long been the victim of prejudice, with the most pivotal moment being an incident of childhood bullying. Wilde had hopes of being the first fox scout, but was pranked and muzzled during his supposed induction ceremony. Zootopia is founded on the idea that anyone who arrives can be anything they want to be, similar to the American Dream. However, Wilde believes that all you can really be is what’s on the outside.  He knows other people only see a fox when they look at him, so he stopped trying to be different and became a con-artist. Obviously, I am not trying to say every criminal is simply misunderstood, and I don’t think the film is either. Wilde is simply an example of someone who is disillusioned with the world’s supposed equality, which he has yet to experience.

Meanwhile, Hopps is the first bunny cop, who is enlisted as part of a Mammalian inclusion initiative. Although she is accepted, Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) has little faith in her ability and assigns her to parking duty.

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Hopps and Wilde are able to form a bond over their treatment, but the bond is tested after they find the missing mammals. Hopps’s takes the stage for her first press conference, with Wilde watching close by, and is quick to reveal that all of the savage animals were predators. When probed, Hopps remarks that the predators might be returning to their old instincts. Wilde doesn’t approve of the comments, and Hopps initially dismisses him. She argues that Wilde should know she wasn’t talking about him, just “them”.

“I remember a mom of a friend of mine in the suburbs made some comment about a black person and – I had to be 12, about 60 pounds – and I said something and she said: ‘Oh no, not you. You are not black. You are great.’- Jesse Williams

That quote leapt into my mind during this scene. We end up being a “credit to our kind”, differentiated from “them”, the masses that deserve hate or mistrust.

It is later revealed that a serum, derived from a poisonous plant, is responsible for the mammals going savage. Mayor Dawn Bellwether (promoted after Lionheart is imprisoned) reveals herself as the mastermind behind the plot, aiming to use the public’s fear to eliminate the predator minority from Zootopia. Using a hitman of sorts, she was able to target predators all over the city and create an atmosphere of fear and distrust. This scheme isn’t just fiction; Donald Trump probably read an early draft of the screenplay and used it as a manual on running a Presidential campaign. As Bellwether says “Fear always works!”

I remember thinking about Zootopia unapologetically explored issues that many people are too afraid to nowadays. In many ways, this Disney film had more guts than most of the Disney produced Marvel films. There is a childhood scene where Hopps is attacked by a child fox, and when he moves to scratch her I was sure that she would be saved at the last minute somehow. Instead, we see Hopps sporting a scar on her left cheek. Life isn’t a fairy tale, and this movie isn’t afraid to let us know that. No pretty princesses, no flowery songs.  Zootopia has a great motto of equality but Hopps acknowledges it is only a motto and that the dream is a work in progress.

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The Unwhitewashing of Geek Culture

“The title of this post is in reference to this blog post I came across a few days ago. The post examines recent and upcoming instances of white comic book characters, such as Iris West on The Flash, being cast with people of colour (poc).

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The blog post has a very optimistic mindset, arguing that those who focus on instances of whitewashing are ignoring the progress being made. I disagree with the writer, but unlike some of my other posts, I don’t aim to vilify her. The idea for this blog post actually came out of our pleasant exchanges in the comment section.

Some successes do not overweigh failures in Hollywood’s casting decisions. Of course, I am happy for these successes but I believe that we can’t rely on the mindset that “things are so much better” to avoid pushing for things to be right. Of course, some progress is being made in terms of diversity in Hollywood and I am happy to see it. The author is right to say that we have come a long way but I don’t think complaints of whitewashing overshadow the positives, I think the positives overshadow the continuing legacy of whitewashing. The 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report showed that 17% of lead roles in Hollywood films go to a minority. This is despite the fact that minorities nearly make up 40% of the US population. Some may be quick to argue that there must be a shortage of actors from people of other races, but I don’t think I even have to dignify that argument with precise statistics. If there was a severe shortage of aspiring poc actors, we wouldn’t be able to make productions like The Get Down, Luke Cage and Straight Outta Compton. Not to mention a slew of diverse or minority dominated indie films like Dope. These indie films have numerous poc who wish to be on the big screen someday.

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Some may also argue that poc just aren’t as talented, but doesn’t their talent become a moot point if they are denied a role because their race isn’t viewed as marketable enough? Let’s use Ridley Scott’s Mohammad so-and-so comment to illustrate. Ridley Scott originally argued that Exodus featured a white cast since Ancient Egypt was a “confluence of cultures”. He later admitted he just couldn’t cast Mohammad so-and-so to get a film financed.  Very few people will deny that Hollywood favours white people for roles. They just find ways to defend it: “best actor for the part, race doesn’t matter” “It’s not about race, it’s about being relatable and marketable”. Yet if a character that is supposed to white is played by a poc then it is “reverse racism” “political correctness” or a “liberal agenda”. I have already discussed this blatant double standard in depth in two articles.

With those two arguments out of the way, I wanted to discuss the part of my conversation with the blogger that interested me most. I do enjoy my ongoing discussion with the blogger so yet again, this isn’t meant to vilify her. However, our discussion brought up a very important misconception about America that fuels Hollywood’s casting decisions, and is also created by them. The blogger used the oft-cited argument that whitewashing is about “relatability”- creating characters people can identify with. Firstly, this argument assumes that someone must be of the same race for you to relate to them. It is possible to relate to someone’s motivations, upbringing, struggles etc. if you are not of the same race. Why does Hollywood and members of its audience think that people can care about robots and talking animals, but not care about poc? Next, you don’t have to be able to relate to a character to care about them. Also, poc are meant to care about characters that are a different race and would likely be considered racist if they skipped out on a movie because it had too many white people. Main point: Hollywood creates the idea that whiteness is universal. Everyone will go to see white people, but only blacks will see blacks, Asians will see Asians etc.

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If someone needs to look like you to be “relatable” or marketable why was this movie so successful?

Once I responded with these facts, the blogger then brought up the misconception. When I referred to movies with mostly poc casts, she assumed I meant foreign ones; arguing that their lack of popularity is more related to the influence of their respective industries, which will likely pale in comparison to Hollywood. I was talking about American productions, like the ones I mentioned above. Hollywood has, for the most part, presented a very white America. Obviously there are prominent poc actors, but compare their numbers to the prominent white ones. Although people always deny the societal impact of films, films are shown to have a significant impact on how people view a certain city, region, country etc.

https://web.stanford.edu/class/e297c/poverty_prejudice/mediarace/portrayal.htm

“Considerable public concern has arisen over the issue of media diversity, as it is generally accepted that mass media has strong social and psychological effects on viewers. Film and television, for example, provide many children with their first exposure to people of other races, ethnicities, religions and cultures. What they see onscreen, therefore, can impact their attitudes about the treatment of others. One study found, for instance, that two years of viewing Sesame Street by European-American preschoolers was associated with more positive attitudes toward African and Latino Americans. Another study found that white children exposed to a negative television portrayal of African-Americans had a negative change in attitude toward blacks. (Diversity in film and television: MediaScope)”

People may be quick to argue that they are much less impressionable than children but ask yourself honestly: Has the depiction of a certain area on tv or in a movie, ever affected your perception of the area, whether it be the demographics or crime of that region? I have heard plenty of friends complain of a region being depicted as too diverse, too crime-ridden and so on. People do notice these things and I don’t believe it is a stretch to say that someone who is unfamiliar with an area can form an impression of it from films. This blogger is likely American and also is not white, so she likely knows what America looks like. Yet years of Hollywood films disproportionately dominated by white people still creates the assumption that a mostly poc cast is the work of foreigners. Such a thing does not exist in America. The blogger has not responded to my most recent post where I pointed this assumption out, so we will see what other insights come from this. Either way, I thought it was a great example of how the impact of films.

 

Update: My last comment to the poster appears to have been deleted. I am assuming that the blogger is the only one who is allowed to do this, so it appears she didn’t take kindly to me calling her out on her assumption.

Talking About Race Will Unite Us

…but it will divide us first.

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The Republican Convention wrapped up last night and I avoided it by all means necessary. However, I can’t help but coming across some news of it on articles or some clips on YouTube. My curiosity gets the better of me and I ended up clicking on some links. A pervasive theme of the sound bites is the idea that we need to be more united. The idea that the current administration has left us too divided. I did not watch the entirety of the speeches and context is key, so I can’t be sure if the statement is meant to criticize the discussion of racism by the Obama administration and other democratic politicians.

However, I have come across that argument being used to criticize the discussion of racism. This argument is more prevalent online than ever with the recent deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. The subsequent shooting of police officers in Dallas also added fuel to the fire, with conservative outlets speculating that Black Lives Matter and the perpetrators are connected.

Many people want us to ignore the racism all around us, arguing that it is an illusion or that black people simply deserve to be killed by cops due their violent nature. Yes, blacks are responsible for a disproportionate amount of violent crimes. We also have a disproportionate unemployment rate. I can imagine someone saying “Get jobs then” and please consult this study as one example of persisting employment discrimination. I wonder how well American white people would be doing if they had the same unemployment rate we do and had the same racial biases against them. In my previous posts, I have included study after study analyzing the impact of racism on blacks. However, denial is strong and people argue that such statistics are only part of a liberal agenda. It seems that people are resistant now more than ever to discuss racism.

Hence, the argument that discussing it only divides us. They’re right, it does divide us. It brings anger and resentment to the surface. However,it also brings up ugly truths. The people using this argument are forgetting that a civil war brought us to where we are now. What we have now is not perfect but it is an improvement over 1861. What if Lincoln decided not to fight for the abolition of slavery because he didn’t want to “divide people”. At the time, only whites were considered citizens. Many of them were happy to keep things the way they were. There was no injustice being done, black people don’t need more rights, they’re property. Why couldn’t Lincoln stop race-baiting and just let peace exist, instead of dividing a united nation?

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Pictured Above: A “Race Baiter”

People may argue that the Civil War was about states rights. Yes, it was about the right of southern states, to continue slavery. Who knows how long slavery would have persisted if not for the civil war. Sometimes things have to get worse, before they get better. I am not condoning the shooting of police officers or violent resistance. I do support the discussion of racism and peaceful protests against a rising tide of  racism, such as police brutality that is increasingly inflicted on black people. I support the discussion of lingering racism at the individual and institutional level in many countries. I support the right to discuss discrimination without being dismissed as “politically correct” or a “social justice warrior”.

Race Is Socially Constructed- But it Still Matters

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I have recently made the commitment to post to my writing instagram account, “wmoviegrapevine” at least twice a day. I post to “moviegrapevine” 3-4 times a day, but posting to that account is generally easier. It only requires finding suitable images and offering some commentary. For wmoviegrapevine I also need to come up with original writing or find excerpts from my previous works, and then find a suitable image. For a while I was only doing one post, but I noticed a relatively quick increase in followers when I started posting more. The momentum took me from 73 to 84, where it has now stalled again. Either way, 2 posts are better than one and I think my laziness stopped me from committing to 2 earlier. It can be hard to post when juggling several other responsibilities, but I prefer trying to make time, instead of excuses.

Finding a topic to write on is usually the hardest part. I sat on the bus for a few minutes thinking of what I wanted to discuss and I remembered one of the arguments about racism that I detest the most. I have read many comments online saying that the discussion of race and racism is unnecessary, since we are all one race, the human race. After all, race is socially constructed, so it has no real impact on our lives and doesn’t matter. Firstly, the sentiment that we are all one race is lovely, but I hate the fact that it is often used to downplay the impact of racism in cases of police brutality, hate crimes, employment discrimination and so on. It is a convenient platitude offered to silence people who truly want to engage with an issue. If you just blurt out “we are all one race” you can bask in the glory of your own enlightenment while also ignoring facts that demonstrate that many institutions and individuals don’t act on that principle.

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As a starting point, I’d like to ask these enlightened ones to read this study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Research Fellows Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan sent out resumes in response to over 1300 employment ads, ranging from clerical work to customer service roles. The resumes were crafted to display identical levels of skill and qualifications. Some resumes had names that people may think of as “white names” or more race-neutral ones, such as Jacob and David. Others had names that people tend to associate with people of colour, such as “Jamal”. Despite equal levels of qualifications the resumes with white names received more callbacks for interviews. Each resume with a white name needed 10 resumes to get a call back, resumes with black names needed to send 15 to get a call back. If the resumes display the same level of skills and qualification, why is there a noted difference in callbacks? If people are colour-blind then the names shouldn’t have any impact. One of the most common beliefs among “colour-blind” preachers is that skill and a desire to work hard are all you need to be successful. Then why are “black names” (Jamal and many other names people think are black names are actually Arabic in origin) holding some applicants back? Keep in mind, these names are not all “ghetto” ones. What justification do you colour-blind people have for the results of this study?

The argument that a social construct doesn’t matter reminded me of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows. The Pulitzer-nominated book mainly examines the impact that the internet has on our brains but Carr also includes an interesting segway that examines how societal constructs can change the way humans think. His example was the use of time and I think it provides a perfect parallel to the oft-cited “race is a social construct” argument. Although categories such as “white” and “black” have not always existed, there have always been people with different skin colours. Likewise, the units of time that we now call “hours” and “minutes” have always existed. The only difference is that we did not always have names for them and we did not always arrange our schedules by them. We used to rely on the sun and the moon to measure our days, but overtime we adopted more precise times for arranging meetings, transit schedules and so on.

Now imagine that you are late for work for a work meeting for the fourth time in a row. You walk into the meeting room and everyone is already seated, with your boss at the head of the table glaring at you. Why don’t you tell him that the start time of 10:00AM is socially constructed, so showing up at 10:10AM doesn’t matter. The sun is still up, so it is still the morning. You are still on time and you refuse to let foolish social constructs dictate the way you see the world, or the way you behave. Do you think that argument will go over well?

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Getting rid of racial categories or pretending they don’t exist is not enough to end or even diminish racism. It is a fact that many people have racial preferences for their romantic or sexual partners. If we get rid of the category of “black”, people will just go from saying “I don’t like black guys” to saying “I don’t like dark-skinned guys” or “I don’t like guys with curly hair” etc. Cops won’t be more suspicious of “black people”, they’ll be more suspicious of people “of African descent”. It is true that race can at times be fluid, since some black people might be lighter-skinned than people of other races. However, people need to realize racism and discrimination as a whole aren’t just about melanin.

Everyone “sees colour”. The real test of whether or not you are racist is what you do with that visual information. There is nothing wrong with noticing that someone is lighter-skinned or darker-skinned, or that they are a different race. The issue is if you think less of them for it e.g. this person is black, therefore they are stupid. This person is black, therefore I will never date him. This person is black, so there is a greater chance he will attack me. That is racism.

Saying “I don’t see colour” just means that you don’t have the moral fortitude to actually make these distinctions. It is too hard for you to see colour and not be racist, so it is simpler just to pretend like you can’t see colour at all. Yet you will probably be the first person to argue that we don’t need affirmative action and that blacks would be better off if they weren’t so lazy. The next time you say “I don’t see colour” or hear someone else saying it, don’t get sucked into this black hole of denial. Ask them if they could see colour and still avoid being racist, which is what plenty of people manage to do. Ask them why they can’t wrap their head around that task. Better yet, ask them what they are physically attracted to, what they think that about black people disproportionately killed by police, or ask them what they think about affirmative action. You might discover that they do see colour after all.